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French arms billionaire Dassault in custody over vote-buying

Billionaire Senator Serge Dassault
Billionaire Senator Serge Dassault Reuters/Benoit Tessier

French billionaire industrialist and senator Serge Dassault has been take into custody in a long-running vote-buying inquiry a week after his parliamentary immunity was lifted, a judicial source has told news agencies.

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Dassault, 88, was being questioned in Nanterre, near Paris, on Wednesday morning, suspected of buying votes in the Paris suburb of Corbeil-Essonnes, where he used to be mayor.

Background reading: Previous French scandals

Judges suspect him of an extensive vote-buying system that influenced the out come of three local council elections in Corbeil in 2008, 2009 and 2010, which were won either by him or his successor, Jean-Pierre Bechter.

The public administration oversight body, the Council of State, annulled the result of the 2008 poll, judging that it had been "established" that money had been given to voters.

Bechter and two other people have already been charged in connection with the allegations.

After uproar because th Senate refused to lift his immunity from prosecution, Dassault, who is a member of the right-wing UMP, gave it up himself last week, declaring that he would prove his "total innocence".

His lawyers admit that he has handed out cash but claim that this was out personal generosity and not connected with the electoral process.

Dassault was given a two-year suspended prison sentence in Belgium in 1998 for corruption in the fight for contracts to modernise Belgian jet-fighters.

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